Added: November 7, 2015 – Last updated: November 4, 2017


Author: Mako E. Yoshikawa

Title: Riddles and Revelations

Subtitle: Forms of Incest Telling in 20th-Century America

Thesis: Ph.D. Thesis, University of Michigan

Advisor: Patricia S. Yaeger

Year: 2008

Pages: xviii + 188pp.

OCLC Number: 894390112 – Find a Library: WorldCat

Language: English

Keywords: Modern History: 20th Century | American History: U.S. History | Cases: Victims / Kathryn Harrison; Offenders: Kinship / Fathers; Representations: Literary Texts / Willa Cather, Maxine Hong Kingston; Types: Incestual Rape; Victims: Kinship / Daughters; Victims: Narratives / Narrative Studies



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Author: Mako Yoshikawa, Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing, Emerson CollegeAuthor's Personal Website

Abstract: »This inquiry into contemporary forms of the incest narrative focuses on three women writers who subvert and reinvent the standard incest model for their own ends. Since the beginnings of Western literature, incest telling has been tricked out in riddles. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, a question—why is there a plague on Thebes?—takes the title character on a quest which eventually leads to the dread answer: because its king is sleeping with his mother. Incest hides in this narrative, its secret waiting to be recognized and decoded. Oedipus remains the archetypal incest story; the riddle form is the standard incest model. But the work of Maxine Hong Kingston, Willa Cather and Kathryn Harrison has done much to change the way that incest is usually told. The standard incest model confirms our belief in incest as a shocking transgression. When the discovery of incest is delayed through riddling, the assumption is that telling this transgression is so fraught it can derail the narrative; it is so horrific that we have to approach it obliquely. In that it defers the announcement of incest through the scattering of clues—the narrative equivalent of clearing one’s throat—the riddle form affirms the view that speaking of incest is as vexed and potentially traumatic as the act itself. By subverting the riddle form, Kingston, Cather, and Harrison not only challenge the way that incest is traditionally told, they also redefine what is and what is not sayable. In “No Name Woman,” Kingston uses incest as a stepping stone to arrive at another, more forbidden revelation. In Sapphira and the Slave Girl, Cather provides what seems to be a textbook incest riddle, but elides the revelation; she uses the unanswered incest riddle to indict the system of slavery and the way it blinkers those who participate in it. In The Kiss, Harrison eschews riddling altogether, casually referring to her sexual relationship with her father on the first page of the text; she thus comments on incest itself—how common it is, how undramatic and unrevelatory to its traumatized victims.« (Source: Thesis)


  Acknowledgements (p. ii)
  Preface (p. iii)
    The Riddling of Incest (p. iv)
    New Forms of the Incest Narrative (p. ix)
    Bibliography (p. xv)
  Chapter I. A Stepping Stone to Voice: The Shifting Answers to the Forbidden Story Riddle in "No Name Woman" (p. 1)
    Forbidden Stories (p. 3)
    The Forbidden Secret of "No Name Woman" (p. 9)
    Interracial Desire in "No Name Woman" (p. 15)
    An Odd-Couple Coupling: The Telling of Incest and Miscegenation (p. 23)
    Purity and Pollution: At the Roots of "Incest" and "Miscegenation" (p. 27)
    A Theory of the Intertwining of Incest and Miscegenation (p. 30)
    Saying the Unsayable: The Development of Voice in The Woman Warrior (p.. 31)
    Bibliography (p. 48)
  Chapter II. The Revelation of No Revelation: The Unanswered Incest Riddle in Sapphira and the Slave Girl (p. 53)
    Not Saying Incest (p. 59)
    Incest and the Mulatta (p. 67)
    A Composite Portrait of Black/Blank Womanhood (p. 71)
    The Erasure of Jezebel (p. 79)
    Incest in the Colbert Clan (p. 96)
    The Literary Failure of Sapphira (p. 98)
    Bibliography (p. 102)
  Chapter III. The New Face of Incest?: Race, Class, and the Controversy over Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss (p. 106)
    Incest, Memoir, Narcissism, Self Plagiarism (p. 110)
    The Incest "Victim" of The Kiss (p. 121)
    The New Face of Incest? (p. 126)
    Bibliography (p. 133)
  Chapter IV. The Domestication of Incest: Kathyrn Harrison's Thicker than Water vs. The Kiss (p. 136)
    Stylistic Differences (p. 137)
    Differences in Plot and Characterization (p. 147)
    Domesticating Incest (p. 165)
    A Turn in the Road: Lone Star and the Revelation That Falls Flat on Its Face (p. 171)
    Bibliography (p. 177)
  Conclusion (p. 179)
    Bibliography (p. 188)

Wikipedia: History of the Americas: History of the United States | Literature: American literature | 20th-century American writers: Willa Cather: Sapphira and the Slave Girl; Maxine Hong Kingston: The Woman Warrior | Rape in the United States: Kathryn Harrison / The Kiss (memoir) | Sex and the law: Child sexual abuse, Incest